CD and Book Reviews
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Sing, Cowboy, Sing: The Gene Autry Collection (Rhino) is a three-CD set featuring 84 favorites by the singing cowboy from Tioga. But these aren’t always the best-known versions; many are previously unreleased transcriptions from his Melody Ranch radio show that measure up well and thus add to the Autry legacy. Irresistibly aw-shucks and easygoing, this music will put you right back in the movie theater, front row center, or around the family radio, just like World War II never happened.
Steve Earle’s co-production of Livin’ or Dyin’ (Rising Tide) makes Dallas singer-songwriter Jack Ingram sound more like—surprise?—Steve Earle than did Ingram’s three prior independent CDs. But it’s the kind of go-for-broke honky-tonk that defies such objections, with enough twang to vibrate bar stools and shuffles you can almost slam dance to. Originals like “Ghost of a Man” and remakes like “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music)” have a wasted and wounded yet aggressive feel that blows away most other country—mainstream or alternative. JOHN MORTHLAND
On their second album, Frustrated (Trance Syndicate), Starfish sounds anything but. The Austin power trio delights in the pure chewing satisfaction of unabashed noise, but they’ve also got a jones for bubble gum: Songs like “Doo Doo,” “Burden,” and the low-fi-punk title track are impeccable amalgams of gleeful energy, metronomic throttle, and dreamy pop bliss. It’s almost enough to make you forget the eight-and-a-half-minute instrumental opener. JASON COHEN
Tejano and conjunto stars get more attention, but the sultry tropical cumbias of Fito Olivares—Texas’ own mambo king, and the spiritual son of the original mambo maven, Perez Prado—resonate farther beyond our borders than the sound of any contemporary Latin act. Fito’s latest release, Con Amor y Con Sabor (EMI-Latin), confirms this with a delicious blend of saxophone and accordion on top of a beat as trancelike as Jamaican dub. If the “Mosaico Fiestero” medley of past Fito hits doesn’t wiggle your booty, seek professional help. JOE NICK PATOSKI
A novel about a small-town-Texas bus driver might not suggest great dramatic potential, but with Jim Lehrer at the wheel, the concept is moving enough. In White Widow (Random House, $21), the noted news anchor draws on his fifties-era experience in Victoria, where he worked as a ticket agent during junior college. His protagonist is Jack T. Oliver, a wildly imaginative driver for the Great Western Trailways line whose heart speeds up at first sight of the title character (“white widow” is bus industry parlance for a beautiful woman traveling alone). Soon his bus, and his life, are out of control. Lehrer’s writing is smoothly suspenseful; his Texas recall is deft and sure (a bad storm, for example, is an “Indianola”). If you’re seeking a punchy read, White Widow is just the ticket. ANNE DINGUS
Today Rudy Tomjanovich coaches the Houston Rockets, but it took him a long time to reach proper orbit. In A Rocket at Heart: My Life and My Team (Simon and Schuster, $23), he and co-author Robert Falkoff chronicle his slow rise from the blue-collar basketball courts of Hamtramck, Michigan, to the top of the NBA. For every bromide about staying true to his dreams, Tomjanovich rebounds with a gripping nugget like his blow-by-blow account of Kermit Washington’s infamous sucker punch in 1977. And he adds more than a dash of inside basketball, revealing the inner workings of a championship squad. A definite three-pointer. JOSH DANIEL
Just before Kenneth Starr resigned as the Whitewater independent counsel and then thought better of it, he hired fellow San Antonian Sol Wisenberg as one of his lead prosecutors. Why’d he choose the quiet 42-year-old assistant U.S. attorney? For one thing, Wisenberg is an expert on white-collar crimes, particularly questionable loans: In 1993, for instance, he got eleven defendants convicted of conspiring to defraud San Antonio’s Victoria Savings Association of $200 million. He also has powerful connections: In all likelihood he was put up for the job by Whitewater team member W. Ray Jahn, the chief prosecutor in the trial of San Antonio federal judge John Wood’s assassin. “Sol’s a good, smart prosecutor,” says San Antonio defense lawyer Roy Barrera, Senior. “If anyone can figure out the puzzle of Whitewater, maybe he can.” JAN JARBOE RUSSELL
Hot Shoe Store
If Houston Rocket Mario Elie and ex-Rocket Sam Cassell want to be known for more than their fancy footwork on the basketball court, they’ve made a step in the right direction with Samario’s Baleares Footwear. The tony store in Houston’s Galleria stocks oxfords and loafers made of calf, kangaroo, or lizard from Spain’s Balearic Islands. Men’s shoes (up to size 22) go for $160 to $275; women’s shoes (up to size 13) are $130 to $200. Devoted patrons include Mark Bryant of the Phoenix Suns and Kevin Willis of the Rockets—and, of course, Elie and Cassell themselves, who have more than one hundred pairs of leather shoes between them. “Shoes make the whole outfit,” says Elie. “You can never have enough.” MICHELE MEYER